Unemployment, informal work, precarious employment, child labor, slavery, and health inequalities: pathways and mechanisms

Int J Health Serv. 2010;40(2):281-95. doi: 10.2190/HS.40.2.h.


The study explores the pathways and mechanisms of the relation between employment conditions and health inequalities. A significant amount of published research has proved that workers in several risky types of labor--precarious employment, unemployment, informal labor, child and bonded labor--are exposed to behavioral, psychosocial, and physio-pathological pathways leading to physical and mental health problems. Other pathways, linking employment to health inequalities, are closely connected to hazardous working conditions (material and social deprivation, lack of social protection, and job insecurity), excessive demands, and unattainable work effort, with little power and few rewards (in salaries, fringe benefits, or job stability). Differences across countries in the social contexts and types of jobs result in varying pathways, but the general conceptual model suggests that formal and informal power relations between employees and employers can determine health conditions. In addition, welfare state regimes (unionization and employment protection) can increase or decrease the risk of mortality, morbidity, and occupational injury. In a multilevel context, however, these micro- and macro-level pathways have yet to be fully studied, especially in middle- and low-income countries. The authors recommend some future areas of study on the pathways leading to employment-related health inequalities, using worldwide standard definitions of the different forms of labor, authentic data, and a theoretical framework.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Employment / organization & administration*
  • Global Health
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Occupational Health*
  • Public Policy
  • Social Environment
  • Social Problems*
  • Workplace / organization & administration*